The Role of a Mosque in Politics: Muslim Perspectives on Jamia Mosque in Nairobi

Hassan Nandwa


A Mosque in the Muslim life is a very important place of worship where Muslims gather five times every day for congregation prayers. Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, build a Mosques immediately after the Hijra to Medina, then eventual adopted it for religious gathering, educational functions, home for the homeless, office for public affairs both legislative and executive, hall for military meetings and court for adjudicating on cases and assembly for the political gatherings and guidance. Enemies, Qureshi realized the role of a Mosque in Politics and therefore build a rival mosque called “Dhirar Mosque” whose purpose was to divide Muslims and become the base for the enemies; Allah ordained that the Mosque to be demolished and forbid the Prophet, May peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, from observing the inauguration Salah in it.  The guided caliphs, may Allah be pleased with them, in their wisdom created places for Governmental functions outside the Mosque, the Mosque remained a place for Muslim Public gathering offering guidance in religious, social, economic and political matters. However when Muslim were divided along different political lines during the era of Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, each Political group mobilized its followers in their respective Mosques for the war and its propaganda. It seems Ali was not in support of this development since he suggested that he shall not bar his political rivals from his Mosques alluding to the independence and neutral role of the Mosque in dispute among Muslims. We may infer from this political history that the role of the Mosque in Politics is not specifically provided for in the Holy Quran and what the Prophet did was in response to the immediate needs that why the guided caliphs did not see any wrong in assigning new roles and departing from the early ones. The ideal situation was that the Mosque should be a symbol of Muslim unit for common purpose in issues affecting Muslims, however in matters where Muslims are divided the Mosques should have a neutral position and ability to act as an arbitrator as drawn from lessons in Ali’s guidance.

Jamia Mosque have been constructed by the Muslim Asian Community represented by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah between 1902 and 1906 remained aloof in Politics even in late 1980s when Sheikh Abdullahi Naseer a Muslim Scholar and a Politician was appointed to be the Imam and expressed his political views in public his services were terminated ostensibly because of his support for the Iranian Revolution but in reality he had attempted to ascribed a political role to the Mosque. At this time Muslims believed did not believe in the linkage between Muslim Religion and Politics. In 1988, Sheikh Ali Shee, a Muslim Scholar specialized in Shariah and a former Kadhi well conversant with current affairs was appointed as the Imam for Jamia Mosque. He openly expressed his political views and even influenced Muslim mass to adopt his views, he openly criticized the Government and become the icon of Muslim Political guidance in Kenya. Muslims changed their attitudes towards politics and felt that Muslim Religion had a place to play in Politics. The Church at that time had also established its foot in Politics with Bishop Alexander Muge, who was assassinated for his political views, Bishop Henry Okullu and other Christian leader vocally criticizing the Kanu Government. The role played by Jamia Mosque in introduction of Multi-Party System in Kenya in early 1990 is not clear, however students of Prof Malik Hussein who had frequent lectures in the Mosque before Friday summons like Mr. Abdu Rahman Wandati registered a significant role in the struggle. However, the Political influence of Sheikh Ali Shee had prepared the minds of Muslims in Kenya to accept assignment of a political role to the Mosque. Sheikh Ali Shee was also terminated from Jamia Mosque due to his attempt to define the role of the Mosque in Politics. In the struggle against President Moi’s Government during the Multi Party era Jamia Mosque was reluctant to support the Opposition and tried to be aloof in Politics. On the other hand Supreme Council of Muslim of Kenya had now engaged in Politics and demanding for respect and protection of rights of Muslims in Kenya under the leadership of the late Ahmed Khalif as the Secretary General. Supkem went ahead to participate in the Mfungano Initiative in the quest for a new Constitution in Kenya. Jamia Mosque committee admitted new members such as Billow Kerrow who were politician and professionals in other fields specifically accountancy, only to move the center of influence of the Mosque from the Imam to the Committee. In rivalry with Supkem, Jamia Mosque engaged in Politics by issuing political statements on different political events frequently. In 2002 General Elections, Jamia Mosque played an active role in supporting the Rainbow Coalition to oust Kanu for Power successfully. In the 2005 Referendum, Jamia Mosque openly supported the No, Orange Campaign successfully apparently due to its attempt to abolish the Kadhi’s Courts gradually. In the 2007 General Elections, Jamia Mosque once again supported the Orange Movement with its leaders being part of the Muslim Leaders Forum as part of the campaign strategy for ODM. Since the election campaign had taken tribal dimensions the Muslim community was not immune from the division. Muslims whose tribes supported the PNU Party were not happy with the role played by Jamia Mosque in those elections. In the aftermath of the Elections with disputed election results and violence erupting in different parts of the Country, Jamia Mosque could not play the role of an arbitrator since it was already partisan. In the 2010 Referendum Jamia Mosque sought to rally Muslims behind the proposed Constitution successfully, some dissenting Muslim voices did not affect the position adversely.

In the 2013 Elections Jamia Mosque was reluctant to declare its support for the Opposition in public although in reality it did support the CORD candidate against the TNA, worse still Muslims were divided along tribal line between CORD and TNA and Jamia Mosque was not able to rally them behind CORD. It is apparent that if dispute could have arose between CORD and TNA requiring intervention of the civil society, TNA followers could not have submitted to the arbitration role of Jamia Mosque.

Consequently, Jamia Mosque has the role of providing political guidance to Kenya Muslims specifically and the entire Country generally as part of the Kenya Civil Society. However utmost care should be exercised in selecting the issues to be supported to be limited to Public Interest of the entire Muslim Community or the Country at large. Issues emanating from difference of opinions and personalities, Jamia Mosque should only offer objective advice on them while maintaining its neutral position and independence. It is therefore evident that Jamia Mosque will require proper capacity building support to enable it play this role.

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